“I just can’t handle the cold”, Part 3 – (The Fear)

The rest of that summer had me in the sea weekly and I even did my first few races (the Lee River Swim, and the Sandycove Island Challenge, both around 2K) but got little real information especially I knew few people. As I said I’m a late starter so I’ll never be the fastest swimmer, compared to people with 20 or 30 years training. ‘Cause, you know, this is a sport where the median age is, well, older.

And of course, a message I’ll repeat in various forms; Open Water is not about the speed. Some people do not understand this.

But I’m kind of obsessive* (it’s a joke among my friends/family) so I always want to know I’m doing <my> best and getting better.

After a couple of months I was getting used to getting in, and getting in quickly, no splashing around. Of course the water was very gradually getting warmer.

BTW, I do 95% of my swimming, pool & sea, by myself.

Where I sea swim locally there are lots of “polar bears”, i.e. the generally older people who get in for 5 to 10 minutes, twelve months of the year. But I am the only current long distance swimmer there, though there are a couple of tri-athletes.
My local pool is a 20m pool and there were no coaches nor any Master’s swimmers, just my friend Clare with whom to go for the occasional swim. I plugged on through the winter in the pool returning to the sea weekly last summer.

My first swim the year after was the end of April. I recall the fear. Actual fear manifesting itself physically in nerves, racing heart, twithchyness.

Six months in a pool and now I was getting in earlier. The sand was so cold walking the 10 metres from my sandals to the water my feet were getting sore. I didn’t take the temp but in retrospect I’m guessing 8 to 10 Celsius/46 to 50F. Yes, I now know that’s a very wide temperature window.

It was Ballydowane, a secluded small cove, somewhat sheltered by high cliffs. I planned a 10 minute swim if possible, with my girlfriend watching on the beach. There was swell that day with head high waves breaking on the beach. So I went from walking in wet to the knees, to covered instantly.

Nothing could describe it. There was little to equate it to cold. It could just as easily have been fire or acid. All I knew was instant all-over pain.
Pain in my sinuses. Fire all over my skin. My feet felt like the flesh had been flayed off the soles. Heart rate sky-high.
I swam for…twenty minutes. The first few minutes were awful. The next few were were still really bad. The 10 after that were fine. All the pain disappeared except the soles of my feet which lessened but stayed present.

(Of course, the waves meant I wasn’t visible from the beach. Unfortunately, my girlfriend actually thought I’d drowned. Not good for her.)

The winter after, I again got in early, March that time as I recall, in bad conditions, too rough for the Guillamenes or almost anywhere else. I got in at Tramore pier where the pier’s shelter allowed me to swim out into the bay. Again, very afraid, after a few months swimming only in wetsuit. It was early Sunday morning. Once out there the local Inshore Rescue rib came out! But they were just out Sunday Morning training. They looked at me like I was mad, but realised I was ok and kept going. Since then they’ve seen me a lot.

I’ve never felt that fear again. Because I did it and lived. Ha, and I almost enjoyed it! Looking back, and looking at how I am now, the cold does not affect me the same.

* A couple of years ago I did my first sailing course. I was talking to a friend shortly thereafter. His very first statement was; “I expect you’ll be planning a circumnavigation next year”.


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